This guide gives you an idea as to what you can expect to happen at a council meeting and also guide you as to when you are able to contribute. The Parish Council welcomes comments and questions from members of the community, but this must be at the correct times during the meeting. The agenda and any relevant documents for forthcoming meetings are available via this website (check out the home page in the Council Meetings Diary). The agenda is normally available in hard copy at the meeting.
Councillors must attend council meetings unless they have a good reason to stay away – for example if they are ill. If they are unable to attend, they must send their ‘apologies’ to the Clerk along with an acceptable reason for absence.
Code of Conduct
The Code of Conduct says that councillors have to say if they have any personal involvement in anything that is on the agenda – for example, if an application for planning permission is on property that they own. This is called ‘declaring an interest’. Councillors are not allowed to discuss agenda items in which they have declared a ‘pecuniary’ interest (i.e. one that relates to money) though they may make a statement. They may choose to leave the room while the item is being discussed.
Minutes are the legal record of what was decided at a previous meeting, written by the Clerk. He sends a draft version of the minutes out to all the Councillors after each meeting so that they can read them, check that they are accurate, and send any suggested amendments.
At this point on the agenda, the Chairman checks that the Councillors are happy that the draft minutes (including any amendments) are a true record of the last meeting. It is only when the Chairman has signed an agreed version of the minutes, they become an official record.
Finance, audit and governance
In practical terms, the Clerk deals with day-to-day accounts and the giving and receiving of payments, but it is the Council as a whole that is responsible for Council finances, and this point in the meeting requires the Councillors to look at three specific matters:
- The payments to be made this month. The Clerk has compiled a list of payments that need to be made to staff, suppliers and others. Councillors must approve this list and sign the relevant cheques.
- The bank reconciliation means looking at the amount of money in the bank and comparing it with the amount that ought to be there according to the accounts. Bank reconciliation means being able to account for any discrepancies.
- When the Council looks at budget monitoring, it is looking at how the current financial situation compares with the planned budget for the year to check that the finances are where they ought to be at this stage.
Every month the Council will consider any planning applications that have been received for development in the parish. Although the Parish Council does not make final decisions about planning applications, it does receive copies of the applications and plans from the planning authority (Herefordshire Council).
The role of the Parish Council is to comment on the plans – in other words, although the Parish Council does not make the decision itself, it can give an opinion that the planning authority has to take into account when it decides. If the Council sees no problem with the application it can make ‘no comment’.
Public participation in the “open session”.
This is an opportunity for any resident to speak to the Council about any issue that they think is important. If you would like to speak, it is a good idea to let the Clerk of the meeting know beforehand, and to let him have copies of relevant documents if you have any. You will then have three minutes in which to speak once you have been called to do so by the Chairman who is in charge of the meeting.
It is important to be aware that although the Council may be able to give you some simple information in response to what you have said, it is difficult to discuss a question and give advice if no advance notice is given; also the law does not allow the Council to take decisions about matters that are not on the published agenda. If you would like the Council to take action about something, you need to be clear about exactly what you would like them to do. It can then be put on the agenda for the next meeting, when the Councillors will discuss it and make a decision. Don’t forget to come along next time to hear the discussion and to contribute to it if asked by the Chairman.
Confidential closed sessions
Some items of business on agendas are classed as confidential and that part of the meeting is closed to the public. For very practical reasons, these sessions are normally held at the end of the meeting so that the public doesn’t have to leave and then return when the session is over. Confidential sessions are not held to avoid transparency but for good reasons.
The criteria for confidentiality are:-
- Engagement, terms of service, conduct and dismissal of employees:
- Terms of tenders, and proposals and counter-proposals in negotiations for contracts;
- Preparation of cases in legal proceedings: and
- The early stages of any dispute.